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Reviews of The Hong Kong Filmography

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Related Links:

A review from easternKicks.com:

A review by John Beifuss of GoMemphis.com:

A review of the book by James Newman from imagesjournal.com:

A review of the book by Steve Erickson from Senses of Cinema:

A review of the book by Shelly Kraicer:

A review of the book by Brian Naas of Hong Kong Cinema View From the Brooklyn Bridge:


- Mike Bracken (Epinions.com):

Having written my share of Hong Kong film reviews (and having made my fair share of mistakes in the process), I know just how daunting it is to cover Hong Kong cinema. The language barrier (and the shoddy English subtitles or awful dubbing that’s supposed to remove that barrier) is just the tip of the iceberg—you’ve got to factor in all the different names (Cantonese, Mandarin, English), the overlap in names (like Tony Leung Chiu-wai or Tony Leung Ka-fai?), the directors, casts, and about a dozen other things that you can easily screw up.

My own firsthand knowledge of the difficulties in writing about Hong Kong cinema are what makes John Charles’ The Hong Kong Filmography such a standout book for me. At long last, there’s a definitive film guide for fans of Hong Kong cinema—without the errors that seem to color every page of Tom Weisser’s Asian Cult Cinema.

Charles, who’s been writing for Tim Lucas’ Video Watchdog for a number of years is the critic’s critic when it comes to Hong Kong cinema. Not only has Charles seen more Hong Kong films than anyone I know of, but he speaks the language—making him able to point out the flaws in subtitling and how they can subtly (and in some instances not so subtly) change the tone of a scene. He brings this encyclopedic knowledge of Hong Kong’s amazing film scene to a book that covers more than 1,100 films (from 1977 through to the return of Chinese rule in 1997) in every conceivable genre. In a film area where fanboy criticism seems to reign supreme, Charles is one of the few voices of reason—and a voice you can trust.

The book itself spans 350 pages, each page featuring three newspaper-sized columns of text. Films are listed alphabetically, by their most common English titles. The reviews feature full cast lists (with not only the name of the actor, but the name of the character they played as well) production information, a star rating, commentary on the production and plot, and a rating on the quality of the subtitles. Simply put, each review is chock full of valuable information that you’re not likely to find anywhere else—at least not all of it in one place, anyway.

The sheer amount of information would be impressive enough to make me recommend the book to anyone with even a passing interest in Hong Kong cinema, but the thoughtful analysis and excellent writing style of Mr. Charles makes it even more worthwhile. I’ve been reading and watching Hong Kong cinema since long before it became popular here in the States. Yet, even with my own familiarity with the subject matter, I constantly found myself learning new things while reading the entries in The Hong Kong Filmography. Did you know that She Shoots Straight is a modern day retelling of a Sung Dynasty story? Me either—which certainly casts the film in a whole new light. That’s just one of many examples littered throughout the book.

Of course, if that’s not enough for you, there’s also a list of Hong Kong film resources, a bibliography for further research, a glossary of popular terms, and an exhaustive index that makes finding what you’re looking for a snap.

Ultimately, if you’re a serious fan of Hong Kong cinema then ordering a copy of The Hong Kong Filmography is a no-brainer. If someone were to ask me if I could recommend just one book for all of their Hong Kong film needs, this would be the one I’d recommend without hesitation. John Charles’s book is easily the definitive guide to world of Hong Kong cinema and gets nothing less than my highest recommendation.

- By Mike White from Cashiers du Cinemart #13:

Despite boasting one of the worst covers I've seen in quite a while, Charles's book is an essential reference guide for anyone with the slightest interest in the rich cinema of Hong Kong. While I may not always agree with the author's assessments of these films, to have all of these films carefully reviewed along with their cast and crew information is invaluable. Boasting an unbearable cover price and no pretty pictures to distract the less literate (like me), The Hong Kong Filmography isn't perfect but it's darned close.

- E-mail from Marcel van de Vijver on March 6th, 2002:

Now that I have this chance I'd like to say how much I enjoyed your book "The Hong Kong Filmography". Of all the works on HK movies I have, it's the most complete and I hope you find the time and the budget to come up with a supplementary volume.

- Richard Klemensen (Little Shoppe of Horrors #15):

Superb...the kind of review book that I enjoy so much (too long to call capsules). Charles is a longtime contributer to Video Watchdog, and a huge fan of the Hong Kong cinema (I should point out there are NO photos in the book. If you love reading text, then this is what you get.) There are thousands of facts and bits of production info spread throughout. Highly recommended book.

- Tony Williams (Film Quarterly #54.4):

This is an outstanding reference book written by one of the main contributors to Video Watchdog, a meticulous publication which always aims to get its facts straight. The editor is familiar not only with Hong Kong but also with Cantonese and Mandarin cinema, making him sensitive to both contemporary cultural nuances as well as the literary context. Containing 1,102 reviews listing full credits, alternative titles, and the various differences between video, laserdisc, DVD, and VCD versions, this work fully justifies Tim Lucas' introduction of it as "the first serious, in-depth, critical guide to Hong Kong cinema in English" containing reviews written with "sensitivity, humor, and intelligence" (viii).

The reader will discover not only professional descriptions of this diverse cinema but also many insights (such as recognition of Brigitte Lin Ching-hsia's contributions to the overwrought melodrama LADY IN BLACK [1987]), deserved acclaim for underrated works (such as LAST HURRAH FOR CHIVALRY [1978], PEOPLE'S HERO [1987], and THE CASE OF THE COLD FISH [1995]), little known facts (such as the relationship of the female police movie SHE SHOOTS STRAIGHT [1990] to a Sung Dynasty story about a family of female soldiers), Wong Kar-wai's screenplay contributions to action movies, deserved acclaim for Roy Cheung's many Triad roles, as well as praise for Tommy Wong as "an underrated character actor" (259). Charles even provides important information concerning the dubbing of voices in Hong Kong films, including Maggie Cheung in THE ICEMAN COMETH (1989) and Stephen Chiau in JUST HEROES (1989). Additional material includes video resources, a glossary, and a meticulous index.

Within the period covered, the editor includes as much information as possible. Those interested not only in high-profile names such as Evans Chan and John Woo but also in others such as Maria Cordero, Wu Ma, Chang Cheh, and Kara Hui Ying-hung will find their appetites fulfilled. However, although billed as a "complete reference," several titles are missing, and the editor is also far too harsh toward chosen bete noirs such as Danny Lee and Michael Wong in a manner very reminiscent of Pauline Kael. However, these are very minor in relation to the achievement of a work which will surpass all other efforts and form an indispensible reference tool in future studies of Hong Kong cinema.

- Bill Connolly (Martial Arts Movie Associates):

"With the most complete cast and crew listings yet compiled, this book also provides full reviews for each of its 1,100 entries. ...a valuable resource”

- Howard Maxford (from the April 2001 issue of Film Review):

***** (Five Stars)...Hong Kong cinema has taken off in the west over the past decade, to such a degree that people like director John Woo and action superstar Jackie Chan are now making it big in Hollywood, while the style of Hong Kong film-making has impacted massively (The Matrix, anyone?). There's more to Hong Kong cinema than just action, all of which Charles chronicles in this expert A-Z, covering comedy, horror, historical drama, romance, eroticism and even experimental fare. As with most guides, all standard information is present: cast, credits, running time, year of release, etc. Where this book excells, is in the assessment of each movie, which even includes comparing theatrical and video releases, which often differ alarmingly from the originals to the poorly dubbed and cut versions released in the west. This is clearly a labour of love as he's obviously sat through every movie, from Abbot of Shaolin to Zu: Warriors of the Magic Mountain. If you have a yen to explore Hong Kong cinema, this should be your starting place.

- John A. Lent (American Reference Books Annual 2001):

The book is well-researched, well organized, and well written and exhibits the author's vast knowledge of Hong Kong film...(an) useful and important volume.

- Joe Kane (aka The Phantom), The Phantom of the Movies' Videoscope:

"...exhaustive and expert..."

- A review by Steven Puchalski that appeared in Shock Cinema #17:

There have been a lot of English-language books published recently about Hong Kong cinema, but this impressive hardback definitely takes the prize for both insightful commentary and encyclopedic information. Nearly 400 pages long, this ambitious volume covers 1100 Hong Kong productions, ranging from the late-70s to the present, and includes everything from the indisputable classics to of John Woo, Wong Kar-wai, and Tsui Hark to the most obscure comedies, erotica, children's flicks, and romances (which only hardcore fans would ever willingly endure). As you'll soon discover, John Charles (a long-time contributor to Video Watchdog) is a meticulous researcher, because in addition to each review, there are extensive cast and crew listings, warnings about bad subtitling, background facts, plus Cantonese, Mandarin, and alternate titles (though at least a few photos would have been nice). Admittedly pricey, this massive volume is well worth it for fans of the genre, since this will be the first book you'll want to grab when seeking hard facts or a knowledgeable opinion on these amazing films.

- E-mail from Stewart Petrovich (stulove@worldnet.att.net) received on January 3rd, 2001:

I am writing to thank you for putting out your book on Hong Kong films. I have bought books on the subject before but none have better reviews and as much reference material as your book contains. It is without [a] doubt the bible for any fan of HK cinema and has helped introduce me to films that I would never have known about without the book. I just hope you plan to put out another book in the not so distant future on Hong Kong films beyond 1997 into the present. I have missed out on reviews that you've probably written on such movies as Storm Riders or Gen-X Cops which comprise the new wave of HK films of the last few years. I would eagerly put such a book into my growing library of book on HK cinema. I will continue to enjoy this web site of yours which i just recently discovered from one of the website links you gave in your book. I always like reading your reviews and will continue to do so into the year 2001 and beyond.

- By Lou Gaul - Entertainment Editor of The Burlington County Times and film critic for Calkins Newspapers, August 31, 2000:

"Fans of Jet Li, Jackie Chan, Chow Yun-fat and other Asian talents should be knocked out by John Charles' "The Hong Kong Filmgraphy 1977-1997." As anyone who recently visited a video store knows, the number of Hong Kong imports keeps growing and growing. Unfortunately, information has been hard to obtain on these flashy foreign films, a problem "The Hong Kong Filmography" helps to remedy. The detailed text provides full credits, plot summaries, and interesting facts about each entry."

-By Neil Koch from hkfilm.net (http://www.hkfilm.net)

The Hong Kong Filmography 1977-1997

Written by John Charles

Take all the other capsule review books like Asian Cult Cinema and At the Hong Kong Movies, pump them up with steroids and add a genuine love for the industry and a through knowledge and you would get this book. It is extremely expensive ($75), but if you're serious about Hong Kong movies, it's worth it. New fans will find over 1,000 reviews done with a critical eye, which sets it apart from most of the other review books like ACC, which seem extremely biased towards certain genres, actors or directors. Those more well-versed will find interesting information about the movies (where certain movies stole their soundtracks from, a bit of history about the actors involved, etc.) and, most importantly, comprehensive cast lists -- something which even the larger internet database sites fail to do consistently. Finally, your questions of "who the hell's that guy?" will be answered. Don't let the cheesy cover fool you -- this is one of the best Hong Kong film books out there.

-from Richard Corliss of Time Magazine Asian Edition (September 11th, 2000 edition):

"John Charles, author of The Hong Kong Filmography, 1977-1997 (McFarland, $75), is from Guelph, Ontario, Canada; yet in his canny notes to 1,102 Hong Kong movies he displays an insider's knowledge of production disputes, casting changes, mutant versions of favorite films. It's the ideal browse before visiting a Chinatown video store ..."

-from Linn Haynes, posted originally at the Mobius Asian Cinema Discussion Board (August 12th, 2000)

A little bit about the book HK Filmography 1977-1997

Ok, I picked this up a few days ago. (I work at a bookstore, so I ordered it from the Publisher the day it came out) I'm nearly through it and thought I'd share a few of my thoughts with those of you looking to get the book. First, the good stuff:

1. The book itself. McFarland is well known for putting out books without real covers, most of them just have typeface on a black, red, or blue background. Not so with this book, but I'd have liked pictures of HK stars as opposed to a guy kicking. Mr. Charles must've made a deal with the Devil to get a back cover on there! The interior is nice too, with what I think may be one of the best overall formats, including typeface, that I've seen for this sort of book.

2. Ther writing is excellent. I can honestly say that this is one of the best written "review books" I've read and I've read most of them! The writing is knowledgeable without being over you head academic and the reviews are often right on the nose. The review format is also easy to understand and pretty thorough. The inclusion of a listing for music taken from American films is a nice nod to fans like me who enjoy knowing that kind of stuff too.

The bad:

1. The reviews. While I loved the reviews, as is the case with ANY book of this kind, I felt quite a few were left out. To me, the amount of older films covered left much to be desired. When I heard John Charles was coming out with a book on HK films, I pictured a book that would be nearly all inclusive and shed a lot of light on lesser known films. It does do that in some cases, but it lacks a lot of the scope that I was hoping for. The major Shaw Brothers films from 1977 to 1982 or so are covered, but where are the lesser known films or the great later films that previewed the kung fu wire fantasy boom of the 90s like Bastard Swordman or Lady Assassin? Or how about some of the lesser known independent films of the late 70s? Some of these were covered, but in this case, I think the book disappointed me.

This said, I can't lie, the book is excellent. Mr. Charles has a lot to be proud of with the book and I recommend that everyone go and pick it up. The price isn't cheap, but the book is worth it.


Copyright © John Charles 2000 - 2003. All Rights Reserved.
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